Michele Kuhlmann is a community literacy worker and facilitates multi-level basic
literacy groups for adults. Michele has worked closely with learners at
various community-based literacy programs since the 1980s.
I experienced two quite different responses to the story research
project. First my personal experience in the research group meetings
and discussions. Later
when we were sharing our research in workshops, I found myself looking
at the experience in a very different light.
For years I have felt the need for a space to come together with
other literacy practitioners to discuss the feelings we have while
listening to the intimate and often traumatic experiences of learners
in our programs. I was very aware that encouraging literacy learners
to write from personal experience created a space where we heard
very disturbing things. We were then in the position of hearing experiences
that were often removed from our own present life situations. The
story research project has been a wish finally coming true for me.
Our research group was very open to exploring very personal feelings
and the space we shared was very respectful. We called our
time together deep listening. We needed this experience and we were
very open about how we entered this time with each other, looking
for what would emerge each time, and cherishing the time together.
This is a very personal reaction to a research project, but I was
also aware how it related to the field we work in everyday. There
was this lingering feeling about how unusual our research situation
was compared to the experience of keeping up with our daily life
in literacy. When feelings of discomfort and difference arise in
our work we are on the spot and have to choose the best response
for the moment but can be left with disturbing feeling and questions
that are not resolved even for years. These feelings and experiences
surfaced and lived in our storytelling. I don’t mean that we “used” the
stories as much as we experienced them together.
When the research group began to reach out of our group and bring
our story experience to workshops at conferences, it seemed like
such a different environment. I wondered how would this change the
experience. I felt it would be valuable but wondered if I could be
presented in the same way in a short time with people who may not
even know each other. It is different. What it was, turned out to
be very much needed by the workshop participants. This was very inspiring.
Because we did the groups with activities and artwork, it was surprising
and refreshing for people who came to the workshops. We confirmed
what we thought that there is a great need for space and time to
reflect on and express the experiences of community work such as
literacy and in other fields too.
I am left with questions now about how what we have found can live
now that the research project is being completed. We each experienced
ways of relating to our own experience and seeing in new ways; that
of course is priceless. Because the experience was so rich there
is the feeling left that the story group is needed and should continue
but how is not clear to me. Since this has been a very important
experience for all of us in the research group, I hope that what
comes next will evolve just like each of our times together, as we
trust the process we are in with story. I suspect what is needed
is an ongoing opportunity for this kind of experience for the well
being of our community.